China Trip Diary: Part 1

Posted at 2:47 pm November 29, 2010 by Gaylene Thomas

Keeper Juli Borowski offers bamboo through the traveling crate.

Giant pandas Su Lin and Zhen Zhen moved to Wolong, China on September 24, 2010. Gaylene accompanied them on their journey and is sharing the trip with us through blog installments.

I did my best to suppress some of the excitement in my voice as I answered “Yes” to the question put before me by San Diego Zoo Associate Curator Curby Simerson in August 2010: “Would you be willing to accompany the pandas on their trip to China?” My efforts to minimize an overly eager reply manifested into a short, quick, loud, “Yes!” It was an honor and privilege to be offered this unique assignment. The many details of it had yet to be worked out, resulting in several months of anxiety and hesitancy to make any personal travel plans.

The daily responsibilities of an animal care supervisor, much to my disappointment, do not always involve direct interaction with animals. This new assignment, however, created an important purpose for me to regularly meet with Su Lin and Zhen Zhen! The many travels to and from my office in the Zoo’s Giant Panda Research Station were diverted by a greeting, and often a biscuit feeding, to my future travel companions. I worked directly with the keepers to gradually introduce the elements associated with travel to Su Lin and Zhen Zhen. My confidence in the success of the event was boosted by comments the panda keepers made regarding their comfort in me being the one to accompany the pandas to China.

Panda and traveling crate get a lift!

The sensitivity to noises and new environmental conditions that Su Lin exhibited created an escalated level of concern for the keepers and me. We proceeded very cautiously and slowly to acclimate both pandas to their travel crates and to the forklift that would be moving them. Chomping on bamboo while being in a crate lifted four feet above the ground is a good sign! Su Lin and Zhen Zhen were champs in their training to accept the machinery and activity associated with their upcoming travels. The travel crates were modified to allow doors on each end to securely be cracked open for emergency and cleaning access. The keepers and I worked with the two pandas to allow the use of a small rake to clean the crates while the pandas continued to eat.

Consider the tasks associated with preparing for an international trip, and then consider those same tasks combined with the responsibility of packing for two giant pandas. I consulted with Lead Keeper Lisa Bryant, who had a successful trip to China with Mei Sheng in 2007 (read the first of Lisa’s blog post installments on that trip, Mei Sheng, Our Precious Cargo).

I also consulted with Senior Keeper Kathy Hawk, who has an intuitive understanding of the pandas in her care. Honey, hand-picked bamboo culm, small enrichment cardboard boxes, five gallons of drinking water, favorite enrichment toys, leaf eater biscuits, apples, yams, and carrot pieces comprised the bulk of the pandas’ luggage.

Gaylene Thomas is an animal care supervisor at the San Diego Zoo.

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53 Responses to “China Trip Diary: Part 1”

  1. cindy in KC says:

    SO GOOD!! 🙂

  2. Fonsia says:

    Thank you so much, Gaylene, for writing about your trip with our girls. I eagerly await part two, and hope to learn why you couldn’t accompany the girls all the way to Bifengxia. As far as I know that’s the first time it’s happened that the bears didn’t have a “home” keeper with them for a day or two at least when they arrived.

    No doubt they’re well and happy now, but I’ll be happier when we get more news and video. No doubt that will come from tourists now that they’re settled into their new “paradise.”

  3. lu says:

    Wow what a trip that must have been. Will we get to see pictures of the travel in the planes and when

    they got to China? How are the Girls doing now? I know alot of questions. Reading what with them, I know

    they were treated great and alittle spoiled. Waiting for more information in the future.


  4. Kate says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us. We have all been anxiously waiting to hear about Su Lin and ZZ’s travels and preparation. Can’t wait for the next installment

  5. lj says:

    I’m sitting on the edge of my seat waiting for part II. Thank you for sharing the experience. We all miss the girls very much and hearing details of their trip is very much appreciated.

  6. Deborah (No. Calif) says:

    Gaylene: Thank you so much for filling us in with details about preparation for the trip to China for Su Lin & Zhennie. Preparing for this and making sure all your bases were covered must have been a phenomenal task! How we miss our girls, but are so happy they were well prepared for the trip and are now well provided for in their new home… I look forward to your next installment. 🙂

  7. Bobbie Wood says:

    Thank You, Gaylene! We are thrilled that the Travel Event of 2010 is now reading material for the Panda Fans! We know Zhen and Su had a great trip, and have adjusted to their new home, but the details of the adventure bring all of us pleasure!

  8. Annie Panda says:

    Wow, you’re so lucky you got to go on the trip there with them! I miss Su and Zhennie, I’m glad they’re doing well and so glad they had a good flight with a good animal keeper! Hopefully Yun Zi won’t have to leave as young as Zhennie was…

    Peace, Love and Pandas CIAO!

    Annie Panda 😉

  9. Linda / NorCal says:

    What an honor for you, Gaylene. I can’t wait to hear more. Thank you for sharing.

  10. Margaret says:

    Thanks Gaylene, for sharing your travel diary with us. Has anyone heard how the girls are doing since they came out of quarantine? I remember a big deal was made internationally in the news with Mei Sheng, Tai Shan, and Mei Lan came out of quarantine with a big celebration at Wolong and Chengdu respectively. Surprisingly, very little mention has been made in the news about the girls’ arrival at Bifengxia, or their moving at the end of quarantine.

  11. Marie says:

    Thank you for sharing part 1 of your trip. 🙂

    I came across some new Lin Ping pix on Facebook from someone’s trip to CMZ. Lots of CK, too. 😉


    Also over the weekend, I saw an article about how Thailand has asked China for a two-yr extension on Lin Ping. She’s due to be sent to China in 6 months 🙁 🙁 unless China agrees to the extension. Also read that that Thailand is in talks with China about opening a panda breeding center. Weegee, do you have any more info on any of this?

  12. Karen in Edmonton AB Canada says:

    Thank you Gaylene. What a wonderful blog. Reading about the girls still pull on my heartstrings. I hope they are doing well in China. I look forward to reading your next blog.

  13. pandafan-north says:

    Gaylene, thank you!! At last, we panda lovers in North America are getting the story right from the source. How exciting it must have been for you to have been given this opportunity to keep the girls company on the long flight to China. I will wait for Part II with bated breath!

  14. Karin (the Netherlands) says:

    Thank you! Can’t wait for the next part of your story.

  15. Pat says:

    Gaylene, thank you so much for sharing this amazing event with all of us. I can only imagine the excitement and also anxiety in such an undertaking. I enjoyed every bit of information and anxiously await Part II.

    My husband and I were able to visit the San Diego Zoo in late September and were fortunate enough to see Su Lin and Zhen Zhen before they left. What a miracle to be able to do so. I have some very special pictures to treasure.

    TY, Panda Lover Pat!

  16. Diane Lincoln, Ca. says:

    Thank you, for starting the departure of our beloved girls. Have been waiting to see how their adventures

    started their new life in China.

    Moderator question: How many keeper(s) accompanied the Pandas to their new home?

    Thank you:)

    Moderator’s note: I’ll let Gaylene answer that in her blog! 😉

  17. Karen says:

    Thank you for sharing your trip with Su Lin & Zhen Zhen. Looking forward for part 2 of your story,

  18. Dianna from Ohio says:

    Marie: I hope Thailand gets their extension. I would miss not being able to watch Ah Ping… not to mention CHK!! 🙂 I don’t think LP is weaned yet… I still see her with LH.

    People are mentioning how big Lun Lun’s Wee Lan is… I wonder how he compares to our Ah Ping when she was that age? Anyone have the stats on that?

    Can’t wait for the next chapter about SuLin and Zhennie. Has SuLin always been sensitive to noises? I don’t think anything bothers Zhennie…

  19. Pandafan#2 says:

    Oh man, what a cliffhanger! 😉 Thank you for answering my question, Moderator! I can’t wait to read part two of Su and Zhennie’s journey to China. I miss them so much!

  20. Toni says:

    Yes! Thank you for the sharing the trip. I looked forward to hearing about it. So nice to know everything went smoothly.

    I do wonder though…..were the humans possibly more stressed than the girls? : ) I know I would have been always thinking the what if’s.

    I made a postage stamp of Bai Yun resting against the water dish (I think it is…) that I took when I was at the SD. Her arms are folded with her head resting on the crossed arms. I swear this is a smile on her face as well. Then I included Zhen and Yun Zi as I created my holiday cards this year. I’m set!

  21. Amanda says:

    #11 Marie – CMZ is to meet with Reps from China on December 20th. Hoping they get that extension! They have made many improvements to their Panda facility in order to keep LP a little bit longer and to accomodate all 3 of their Pandas after she is weaned. Fingers Crossed!!

  22. Weegee says:

    Marie ,

    The words are getting out pretty fast these days….. 🙂

    I heard Chinese authorities are working on extending the stay of Ah Ping for 1 or 2 year(s). I also heard that if Ah Ping had to go back at 2yrs of age, she might be sent back here again after she find her mate there in China. And another story I heard is the Chinese authorities will send us another male panda to mate with Ah Ping here in Thailand. We’ll just have to wait patiently for the final decision from China….. ^__^

    Dianna from OH,

    I have all the physical record of Ah Ping but it’ll take some times to find out. It’s 2am already, time really flys….Have to go and get some sleep…I will fill in the info. for you tomorrow…Nighty night… ^o^

  23. Linda Short says:

    I have been following the pandas’ story since little Hua Mei. I have birth records and family trees and all the “stuff” that most would do with their own children. I am so pleased to hear of the travels…..cannot wait for part II. My dream is to someday travel to China and pet a little panda! If you need a travel companion at no expense to you, let me know!! I am a panda expert (self-taught).

    Thank you, thank you! -Linda from northwestern Minnesota

  24. Danielle, NY says:

    #18 Dianna from Ohio – See my post #52 on

    Wee Lan was 21 days old on November 24 when his last health exam was performed. The first record for Lin Ping that I have is when she was 27 days old. Wee Lan is 27 days old today, so if we could have his weight today, we would be able to make a comparison.

  25. Danielle, NY says:

    Winter has come early over Europe and the Zoo in Vienna has received 10 cm of snow (4 inches). I was expecting to see pictures of the adult pandas rolling in the snow with delight, but instead I saw pictures of, among others, Tuluba, the African Elephant born on August 6, discovering snow for the first time. www(dot)zoobesuche(dot)net/2010/11/wien-im-ersten-schnee/

    So an intrigued and curious young elephant but no overjoyed pandas…

  26. Danielle, NY says:

    Today the Japanese Pambassador Yumiko Kajiwara, who is still in Chengdu, posted a video of six of the cubs born in Chengdu this year.

    New born pandas @Chengdu Panda Base 2010. Nov 30

    She wrote that some already weigh 9kg (19.8lb)!!

  27. Susan(UK) says:

    Thank you Gaylene, looking forward to part two already.

  28. Dianna from Ohio says:

    Thanks Danielle… So if I’m reading your stats correctly and given that we don’t have the exact date/weight for each cubbie… it still appears that Ah Ping is our biggest yet? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see if AZ did an exam today… 🙂

    For the Polar Bear followers, I read on the PB blog that Denmark Zoo have a new PB cubbie and they have cams to watch… check out the last PB blog for the website…. I like the name “Ice Bears”…..

    So many babies to watch!!! 🙂

  29. pandafan-north says:

    #25 Danielle, NY – thank you very much for the link to Zoo Vienna. I loved seeing all the other animals reacting to the snow! Everyone, there are at least four videos on that webpage that you should watch. Fun, fun, fun!!! Maybe one day soon, we can have snow for the SDZ pandas. I’m watching youtube often to see if there has been a significant amount of snow over in Washington D.C. Mei Xiang loves to roll around in it!! And I’m sure Xi Lan over at ZA would have a blast playing with the white stuff. It will come!

  30. Amanda says:

    Took a quick peek at the sdz panda cam. Looks like Yun Zi is napping in the hammock. Hate when work gets in the way of panda viewing 🙂

  31. Danielle, NY says:

    Don’t miss all the videos and pictures posted by DoxieMom

    I would like to attract your attention to a video of Yun Zi and Bai Yun taken on Sunday:

    11-28-2010 Some Very Un-Bai Like Behavior, and a Donut (Flickr video)

    Yun Zi “pushes” her into the pond, but when the water starts splashing around, Yun Zi goes to high ground 🙂

    I saw all of it and more live on Sunday and it was hilarious!!! Yun Zi and Bai Yun were playing together and chasing each other all over their enclosure until Bai Yun landed in the pond and started making waves; Yun Zi took off and went on that branch over the pond. Then, as he didn’t feel safe enough there, he went higher up in the tree. The funny thing is that the moment Bai Yun got out of the pond, Yun Zi came down and they started playing again. It was nice to see them interacting like that and see that Bai Yun hasn’t lost her sense of fun!!!

  32. Danielle, NY says:

    You can also see some beautiful videos of Wee Lan and Lun Lun on

  33. Kathy in CT says:

    #31 Danielle/ Doxie Mom What a beachy girl Bai is- getting ready for the California coast! And Yunnie- I guess mommy has a new playtime invention if you begin your more than slightly irritating moves. She might start taking boo to poolside. And it appears from your escape route you weren’t born under a water sign, you little Leo- turned cowardly lion, oh, my!…

  34. Grace says:

    11/30/2010 3:40PM, PST: Just witnessed one of the most awesome play session between Bai Yun and Yun Zi!!! Both were rolling dirt in the cave, having tons of good fun. When Bai Yun “escaped” to the branch nearby, Yun Zi persistently begged for more plays with his pestering paws. Mommy ended up hanging upside down from the branch, with Yun Zi tugging at her from the ground. Sooo fun!!! I just love that Bai Yun is such a wonderful AND playful mother! No wonder all of her cubs turned out well. =)

  35. Pamda says:

    Hi Everyone – and thank you for all of the links to the incredible videos of Bai Yun and Yun Zi taken over the past few days, as well as the links to Lun Lun and Wee Lan. I love that nickname, but at the rate he is growing, he may give new meaning to the why they are called Giant Pandas!

  36. Lisbeth Dodman says:

    Very good!after all,even the zoo does’nt really own the animals.Nobody “owns” a wild animal,at least nobody but the One who made them.They were made to be wild!

  37. Chari Mercier says:

    Hi! The article that I have been waiting for since Su Lin and Zhen Zhen left SDZ back in September! Thanks Gaylene for that great article of your preps and trip to China with Su and ZZ! Can’t wait for Part 2 to come up! Thanks, Gaylene!! 😀

    Atlanta Zoo panda keepers are still writing updates about Lun’s cubbie every day on the AZ panda update page. Plus, they are adding some great pics along with those updates of Lun and her cub. It looks like Lun is having a harder time trying to hide her cub now that he’s gotten a little bit bigger and furrier! About the only time that she can hide him is when she bends over him and completely hides him that way! Other than that, the keepers and all of us watching the AZ pandacam are able to see him alot more. I was on the AZ cam a few days ago, and saw the cub all by himself on the den floor, while his mom is out getting something to eat. We’ll be seeing alot more of the cute cubbie as the days go by now! YEA!!!

    Gonna go for now. Will be back later!

    Chari Mercier 🙂

    St. Pete, FL

  38. Weegee says:

    Dianna, OH

    Here’re info. of LP’s physical measurement;

    First day: body weight (bw) 235 g, total length (tl) 17.5cm

    Day 10: bw 395g, tl 20cm, and all the black spot appeared

    Day 20: bw 810g, tl 26cm

    Day 30: bw 1,280g, tl 30cm

    By comparing their weight at day 20, LP’s weight is more than XL’s little bro. But aka Wee Lan’s body length is longer than Ah Ping.

  39. Danielle, NY says:

    Mei Xiang is taking fashion to another level. She is showing off her new chapeau!!

  40. Danielle, NY says:

    No Teflon in sight anymore for Bai Yun, but Yun Zi nearly ended up as flat as a pancake…

  41. Danielle, NY says:

    Bai Yun doesn’t want to look out of touch with the new fashion; she is showing off her new shawl.

  42. DoxieMom says:

    Thank you so much Danielle, NY #40 for posting the link to my video, 2010-11-30 Yun Zi and Bai: Down and Dirty 🙂 This is the same play session that Grace #34 described in detail ~ Bai was dirty and did hang upside down from the tree, lol!!

    Gaylene, thank you for Part 1 of the China Trip Diary. It was with a heavy heart that I read it, but knowing that so much thought and energy was put into preparing Su Lin and Zhen Zhen for the trip, and that the girls are now settled in their new home makes it easier to read.

  43. Lee in Vancouver says:

    I was just watching Gao Gao on Cam 1 and it looks like the beautiful grass is getting worn down from his walkabouts. I think it’s time for someone to water it. The yards look so different when they are all green and the flowering shrubs in bloom too. Can the keepers just accidently overflow the pool if a hose is not available? I know you don’t need another job added to your already busy schedules.

  44. Panda Fan says:

    Cao Cao and her wild-born cub say hi to panda fans:


  45. Linda / NorCal says:

    DoxieMom, you totally rock. Thank you, thank you.

    And thank you to all who posts pics and videos. I often have very little time, and it’s a great way to feel like I’m not missing everything!

  46. Danielle, NY says:

    If you want to read about Cao Cao and her nearly 4 month old male cub in English, go to www(dot)pandas(dot)fr/ click on the Google “Translate” icon on the top right of the page, and open the story from 1 December 2010, there are also pictures from the cub when he was 3 month old.

    I have never been able to find out what happened to the three other pregnant pandas that were released in the same area with Cao Cao, but it is nice to see that Cao Cao and her cub are doing well in the semi-wilderness.

  47. Danielle, NY says:

    Jeroen went to Madrid to meet the twin cubs born on September 7, 2010. He has started posting the pictures on his website, just beautiful!!!


  48. Annie Panda says:

    Wow, just realized Grammmie hasn’t posted a comment for a really long time, I wonder whats up?

    Also- Pandas Live On post are back again, there wasn’t one for a couple weeks! I’m so glad Lun’s cub is doing well!

    Peace, Love and Pandas CIAO!

    Annie Panda

  49. pandafan-north says:

    #44 Panda Fan – thank you so much for the link to the latest photos of Cao Cao and her cub. That little one looks so healthy – bright eyes and fluffy fur. I wonder if he has a name. It would be nice to know more about how Cao Cao and the other bears are doing, as this is a first for Wolong and quite a success, I think.

  50. pandafan-north says:

    Panda fans, just wanted to share this lovely capture of Lun Lun giving Wee Lan a good licking – and he seems to be enjoying it!!

  51. Lucilla in Singapore says:

    ‘HELLO! Its Party Time at Pandas Give Back! Welcome everybody!’ yells Xi Lan as he is the Master of Ceremonies accompanied by Princess Ping.

    ‘SAWADEE-KA, greetings all the way from Thailand! Today is special because pandas are giving back to the hoomans who have helped us soooooo much. We want to raise money to feed and educate children. YES?’

    ‘YES!’ a roar in the crowd of pandas and hoomans yelled and got ready to have the time of their lives. The pandas have taken over SDZ for the day.

    In one corner there was a photo exhibition by Weeta Pawtita and Paw3Cleo and PekoMama. And the photographs made into beautiful wall hangings for sale.

    In another area, all the young pandas had set up games and rides. There was a dunking booth with Tai Shan as the target. ZZ was in charge of the roller coaster and the bungee jump. Fu Long was helping little children onto the merry-go-round. Su Lin was making cotton candy for the folks. Wang Wang and Funi from Australia were helping with the water slides.

    Some of the older male pandas were handling the afternoon entertainment. Gao Gao was playing a set with his flamenco guitar and then his bamboo flute. Yang Yang, Le Le and Tian Tian were singing popular panda hits. Hua Mei and Mei Sheng were roped in to play two traditional Chinese instruments the er hu and the gu zheng. Chuang Chuang was exhibiting his talent to whistle tunes while eating boo.

    The ladies had been busy. They had set up a banner declaring it was ‘PANDEMONIUM TIME!’ and they had cooked dishes and prepared gifts from whichever part of the world they were from. There was chocolate cakes from Austria, tom yam soup from Thailand, paella from Spain, tortillas from Mexico….YUM YUM.

    Mid-afternoon there was an auction of special items made by our pandas. There was a painting of Bai Yun by Yun Zi. A necklace made by Mei Lan. A dress designed by Zhen Zhen. A sculpture by Xi Lan. A poem composed and written in lovely calligraphy by Mei Xiang. The list was endless and the items were snapped up by the hundreds of panda fans who came to support the event.

    Yun Zi had done a brilliant job publicizing the fund raiser. And now he was in the classroom getting ready for the finale. His sister Su Lin was helping him get into his new tuxedo. His lovely wine coloured cummerband curved lovingly round his nice tummy.

    ‘Thanks, Su. How do I look?’

    ‘Like the centrefold for PQ!’

    ‘Really? Hee Hee….’ He did a twirl round.

    ‘Yes, you are ready!’

    To Be Continued

  52. Mary from Brooklyn says:

    Wow, Lucilla, cannot wait for the next installment!

  53. Dianna from Ohio says:

    #51 Lucilla: You’re back! Hope you are feeling better… Great story…